PJ Media’s Walter Hudson Previews Bernstein-D’Souza Debate on Christianity

Writing for PJ Media, Walter Hudson, a Christian, offers a good summary of key differences between Christianity and Objectivism, the secular philosophy of Ayn Rand. Hudson previews topics likely to be debated tonight in Austin, Texas, when Christian Dinesh D’Souza and Objectivist Andrew Bernstein square off over the question, “Christianity: Good or Bad for Mankind?”

Access to the Livestream presentation of the debate can be purchased for $5 here; the debate starts at 7p.m. CST.

In his preview, Hudson briefly discusses four main areas (broken into five points): the source of knowledge, the nature of reality, the justification for ethics, and the history of Christianity. Here I will address only the first three issues; Bernstein’s essay on the Dark Ages addresses the essentials of the third.

Regarding knowledge, Hudson points out that the “Christian worldview . . . allows for revelation from a supernatural source.” Indeed, not only does Christianity (and every religion) allow for revelation or faith, it depends on it. Objectivism, on the other hand, holds that all knowledge derives from the evidence of the senses and logical inference from that evidence. (Hudson correctly summarizes this, except he refers to the process merely as “deduction” when logic consists primarily in induction and secondarily in deduction.)

Regarding reality, Hudson explains, Christianity holds that God exists in a supernatural dimension, whereas Objectivism holds that there is only one reality, the natural world, the world in which we live.

Regarding ethics, Hudson correctly notes that Rand rejects “original sin” and self-sacrifice, advocating instead rational self-interest. Hudson writes that according to Rand “altruism is not merely caring for others. . . . In Rand’s view, altruism is irrationally living for others at the expense of self, and egoism is living intentionally in service of rational long-term self-interest.” That’s essentially correct, but the implication that one might rationally live for others is contrary to Objectivism. Rand held that each individual properly lives for himself and that doing so involves dealing with others in ways that are good for one’s life, such as treating others justly, respecting their rights, and developing deep bonds of friendship and love.

On the issue of ethics, Hudson makes a confusing comment in claiming that, for Rand, “The concept of sin is unceremoniously rejected by a metaphysics which denies the existence of any god we need to live up to.” Certainly Rand did not conceive of “sin” in relation to a god or a supernatural dimension. However, Rand recognized absolute right and wrong, good and bad; she held, “that which furthers [one’s] life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil.”

Oddly, despite his largely accurate portrayal of Rand’s philosophy (unusual in the media, where we often see only smears and misrepresentations of her work), Hudson believes that Christianity and Objectivism “are not . . . wholly irreconcilable.” Hudson even says that in a future essay he will reveal a “Christian virtue of selfishness.”

However, ultimately these issues are either/or: Either reason is man’s means of knowledge, or it is not; either faith begets knowledge, or it doesn’t; either the natural world is all there is, or not; either the individual should live for himself, or he shouldn’t.

Still, it is refreshing to read a basically accurate and respectful review of Rand’s ideas from someone who disagrees with the fundamentals of those ideas.

If you are interested in these issues, be sure to sign up for the Livestream of the debate tonight; it promises to offer plenty for Christians, atheists, and Objectivists alike.

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  • Anonymous

    Ok, ok…I have the 1st statement for Andrew: “Objectivism and Christianity are entirely irreconcilable as are Science and Christianity.” No charge for this.

    I have my password at the ready and have set my calendar alert.

    • John Gold

      I wouldn’t say Christianity and science are irreconcilable. Christianity teaches that God made the universe with certain laws and that man is a rational creature created in the image of God and can understand these laws. Most branches of science have been started by religious believers (Newton, Mendel, among others).

      How many important scientists has Objectivism produced?

      • http://www.facebook.com/david.blankenau David Blankenau

        Mere belief in a God is NOT the same thing as Christianity. Scientists like Newton rejected the tenets of Christianity insofar as study of the universe is concerned, and opted for reason instead.

        If Objectivism were ever to take permanent root in our culture, there would be, among many others, a scientific revolution such as the world has never seen. This is demonstrable by the very nature of any philosophy that is pro-reason and pro-individual rights. The fact that there are currently so few such scientists shows how little-understood these concepts (e.g. reason, rights, freedom) really are (and how much work needs to be done to spread Objectivism).

        • John Gold

          How did Newton and Mendel reject the principles of Christianity in their study of the natural world?

          Please name a single important Objectivist scientist.

          Please name a single scientific advance that he or she made based on using Rand’s theory of concept formation.

          • Sam West

            What is this insistence of matching up the philosophical background of prominent scientists? To attempt to show that Christianity produced some and Objectivism none? Several things wrong with this approach: a) What could a Western scientist be but a Christian until the 20th century? If he would renounce Christianity he would either be murdered, tortured or deprived of the means of life. Why do you take people on their word when they describe themselves as Christian in a society that would make their life impossible otherwise? b)Even if some of the prominent scientists were devout Christians, itself a contradiction, Christianity had close to 2000 years of dominance in the Western world, Objectivism

        • Anonymous

          David,

          Good comment.

          I’ve read somewhere that Newton left, as I recall, some angels to plug a hole in his work. It took around another 100 years before some scientist developed the mathematics to fix this bit of supernatural causation.

      • Anonymous

        John Gold,

        The reasons why science and religion are philosophically irreconcilable are the essentially same as the reasons why Objectivism and religion are irreconcilable — and Bernstein presented these rather well in the debate (the law of Identity, the primacy of existence, …). While I have huge disagreements with The New Atheism, the topic has received growing attention by New Atheism scientists in the last few years: the one I’m most familiar with is Jerry Coyne, author of “Why Evolution is True.” The fight is on. But, as in other areas, I don’t think TNA can finish it. Generally, they reject philosophy, so that leaves them wanting in their ability to define and defend reason, and in their courageous fight against religion.

        No, I’m unaware of any Objectivist Newtons or Mendels yet — nor a Copernicus or Galileo or anyone even close.

        So far as the splits in Objectivism, that’s certainly interesting, but I don’t know the answer. I believe Peikoff has written something about the issue, but I can’t find a link.

        You imply that the concept formation practices of major scientists did not correspond in major ways to Rand’s theory. That’s something I’ll have to let David Harriman speak to; I haven’t read much of his book yet and have otherwise not studied the concept formation approaches of these scientists — and almost certainly won’t. I did find Harriman’s introduction to the problem of induction to be very valuable in personal ways though.

        If you want to learn about Objectivism, there are now some inexpensive audio downloads available at (link) The Ayn Rand Institute eStore. They can be imported into your iPod or iPad.

        • John Gold

          I’m very familiar with Objectivism. I’ve read almost everything Rand and Peikoff wrote.

    • John Gold

      BTW, if Objectivists are so rational, how come they constantly fight about what Objectivism is and denounce and excommunicate each other. Peikoff seems to break with everybody. A year or two ago he consigned John McCaskey to hell.

  • Mel_M

    Ok, ok…I have the 1st statement for Andrew: “Objectivism and Christianity are entirely irreconcilable as are Science and Christianity.” No charge for this.

    I have my password at the ready and have set my calendar alert.

    • John Gold

      I wouldn’t say Christianity and science are irreconcilable. Christianity teaches that God made the universe with certain laws and that man is a rational creature created in the image of God and can understand these laws. Most branches of science have been started by religious believers (Newton, Mendel, among others).

      How many important scientists has Objectivism produced?

      • David Blankenau

        Mere belief in a God is NOT the same thing as Christianity. Scientists like Newton rejected the tenets of Christianity insofar as study of the universe is concerned, and opted for reason instead.

        If Objectivism were ever to take permanent root in our culture, there would be, among many others, a scientific revolution such as the world has never seen. This is demonstrable by the very nature of any philosophy that is pro-reason and pro-individual rights. The fact that there are currently so few such scientists shows how little-understood these concepts (e.g. reason, rights, freedom) really are (and how much work needs to be done to spread Objectivism).

        • John Gold

          How did Newton and Mendel reject the principles of Christianity in their study of the natural world?

          Please name a single important Objectivist scientist.

          Please name a single scientific advance that he or she made based on using Rand’s theory of concept formation.

          • Sam West

            What is this insistence on matching up the philosophical background of prominent scientists? To attempt to show that Christianity produced some and Objectivism none? Several things wrong with this approach: a) What could a Western scientist be but a Christian until the 20th century? If he renounced Christianity he would either be murdered, tortured or deprived of the means of life. Why do you take people on their word when they describe themselves as Christian in a society that would make their life impossible otherwise? b) Even if some of the prominent scientists were devout Christians, itself a contradiction, Christianity had close to 2000 years of dominance in the Western world, Objectivism had 0. It was fully formulated only ~50 years ago.

            In your earlier post you wonder why rational people disagree. Several reasons: different values, lack of knowledge, errors of judgement. Without even knowing the full story of disagreement of Ayn Rand or Leonard Peikoff with other people who called themselves Objectivists one can easily see that when people describe themselves as rational they in reality may not be. There has been enough literature published that exposes those liars for what they are.

        • Mel_M

          David,

          Good comment.

          I’ve read somewhere that Newton left, as I recall, some angels to plug a hole in his work. It took around another 100 years before some scientist developed the mathematics to fix this bit of supernatural causation.

      • Mel_M

        John Gold,

        The reasons why science and religion are philosophically irreconcilable are the essentially same as the reasons why Objectivism and religion are irreconcilable — and Bernstein presented these rather well in the debate (the law of Identity, the primacy of existence, …). While I have huge disagreements with The New Atheism, the topic has received growing attention by New Atheism scientists in the last few years: the one I’m most familiar with is Jerry Coyne, author of “Why Evolution is True.” The fight is on. But, as in other areas, I don’t think TNA can finish it. Generally, they reject philosophy, so that leaves them wanting in their ability to define and defend reason, and in their courageous fight against religion.

        No, I’m unaware of any Objectivist Newtons or Mendels yet — nor a Copernicus or Galileo or anyone even close.

        So far as the splits in Objectivism, that’s certainly interesting, but I don’t know the answer. I believe Peikoff has written something about the issue, but I can’t find a link.

        You imply that the concept formation practices of major scientists did not correspond in major ways to Rand’s theory. That’s something I’ll have to let David Harriman speak to; I haven’t read much of his book yet and have otherwise not studied the concept formation approaches of these scientists — and almost certainly won’t. I did find Harriman’s introduction to the problem of induction to be very valuable in personal ways though.

        If you want to learn about Objectivism, there are now some inexpensive audio downloads available at (link) The Ayn Rand Institute eStore. They can be imported into your iPod or iPad.

        • John Gold

          I’m very familiar with Objectivism. I’ve read almost everything Rand and Peikoff wrote.

    • John Gold

      BTW, if Objectivists are so rational, how come they constantly fight about what Objectivism is and denounce and excommunicate each other. Peikoff seems to break with everybody. A year or two ago he consigned John McCaskey to hell.

  • Anonymous

    We use Livestream Login from the “Livestream of the debate tonight” link above, then enter our password?

  • Mel_M

    We use Livestream Login from the “Livestream of the debate tonight” link above, then enter our password?

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps a thread tomorrow or soon to make some remarks about the debate? BTW, I was very impressed with Bernstein’s knowledge and skill at picking up D’Souza’s points and dealing with them. If he left any of D’Souza’s stuff unchallenged, it wasn’t much and that is very very hard to do.

  • Mel_M

    Perhaps a thread tomorrow or soon to make some remarks about the debate? BTW, I was very impressed with Bernstein’s knowledge and skill at picking up D’Souza’s points and dealing with them. If he left any of D’Souza’s stuff unchallenged, it wasn’t much and that is very very hard to do.

  • Anonymous

    I would like to see an audio version of this debate available for purchase from the ARI eStore.

  • Mel_M

    I would like to see an audio version of this debate available for purchase from the ARI eStore.